Having run the Yoga for Healthy Sleep workshop regularly for the past several years, I have noticed that it’s always full with a waiting list. The following is intended as a support for you if you are looking for ways to sleep restfully, naturally. Inability to sleep well is a sign that you are out of balance and yoga is designed to restore equilibrium to all levels of our being. It is not a quick fix but it does work. Good luck!
The Queen of Restorative Poses
#1 Lying on your back with your legs up the wall doesn’t seem like the obvious insomnia cure but it is known as the Queen of restorative yoga poses and will calm your nervous system without you having to do anything else at all. I think headstand is the King of poses, whatever that means. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, if you do Viparita Karani Mudra (legs up the wall pose) for four hours a day you will never die. If you have any success with this then let me know. For those of you with a tighter schedule, 5 – 20 mins before bed is ideal. You can even do it in bed if your bed is next to the wall. If you need a shoulder stretch then you can have your arms up as shown, however for grounding and rest it is better to have your hands at your sides or resting on your belly.
The bolster is optional. If you have lower back issues then opt out and use either nothing under the hips or have a folded blanket to raise the hips slightly making it more effective as an inversion. If you have difficulty staying still for this length of time then you could try listening to some soothing music or a guided relaxation while you practise this pose.
Yoga’s insomnia cure
#2 Best done lying down, abdominal breathing is a magic trigger for the parasympathetic nervous system and will help to restore homeostasis (balance). Lengthen the breath slightly but remain in your comfortable range of breathing. Place your hands on your belly to help ground you and to help the movement of the breath flow deep into the root of the body. You’ll feel the belly swelling with the inhale and subsiding with the exhale as you breathe. Don’t be surprised if you have to train yourself to breathe in this way; we are a culture of “reverse breathers” which is part of the reason we are also a bunch of insomniacs. Just go really gently and don’t force anything.
Abdominal breathing leads to proper functioning of the body’s systems, calming of the nervous system and helps your body to know that all is well in the world and that it is safe to sign off. I have recorded a guided practice which you can find on iTunes here: Abdominal Breathing Podcast
Calming Reclining Twist
#3 The reclining twist is so good if you wake in the night and find it difficult to get back off. Use a prop as it helps with grounding – it could be a bolster, pillow, cushion, rolled blanket or a person if they’ll let you. Supported twists are some of the most relaxing poses and this one is especially good for calming anxiety and balancing the adrenal glands. You can do this one sitting up and turning towards the bolster placed which is placed next to you and secured against the arm of the sofa.
#4 The body scan – I have hardly ever stayed awake through a whole one. If you are very experienced at yoga or mindfulness you can do this one on yourself but even then it’s more relaxing to give yourself over to another voice. Here is a link to one I have recorded in one of my classes: Body Scan Meditation. There are also some other free recordings on YouTube – Mark Williams Body Scan Meditation is one I highly recommend. I really like the male voice. Try having it on your mp3 player next to your bed.
The deepest relaxation
#5 Yoga Nidra – I saved the best till last. Nidra is not strictly, technically actually a relaxation, it’s intended as a way for yogis to penetrate their deeper layers of consciousness to surf the astral planes in the quest for self-knowledge, but don’t let that put you off. Most Nidras comprise a rotation of consciousness (naming and sensing body parts), guided breathing, visualisation and awareness of opposing sensations. Take your pick. I have recorded several, some of which appear as episodes 66, 64 , 43 (with restorative yoga) and numbers 58, 54 of the Yoga by Nature podcast on iTunes – there are more if you search through. There are several more recordings out there on iTunes if you want to shop around.
Out of all the podcasts I have published, the yoga nidras inspire the most feedback. I have heard from people all over the world who are really grateful to have received this wonderful therapeutic method for self-care. I can’t recommend it enough. Yoga Nidra is a way to reset, calm down, go to sleep and go back to sleep. You can do it on your commute but it’s best to do lying down and cosy in a darkened room where you know you won’t be disturbed.
I have recorded two Yoga for Healthy Sleep podcasts too – they come up as numbers 45 and 48 of the podcast (not episodes 45 and 48, just to be confusing). There’s a half hour one and also a full 90 minute class which I recorded at the workshop. It’s always best to practise with a real time teacher though, so go to your local restorative yoga class if you can. I teach a mellow class on a Friday evening in Weston and the Healthy Sleep Workshop is coming up on the 30th September at Bristol Folk House. If you can’t make it to that, there’s the Digital Detox Practice on the 24th Sept at Wild Wolf’s which will be perfect for you if you’re not sleeping well because of too much screen time.
Let me know how you get on, and whether there’s anything else of use I can include here that may help the masses sleep well. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for ongoing support.